Porto Salvo in Gaeta
The main port area of Gaeta is known as Porto Salvo with its fishing harbour, fish processing plants, and boat repair yards. The fishermen of Gaeta set out into the gulf early in the mornings and return back to port with their catch in the mid-afternoon. Some sell their fish straight from their boats to restaurant owners. However just across the road a fish market sets up selling to the public from 4 in the afternoon.
The History of the Old Quarter of Porto Salvo
The district of Gaeta known as Porto Salvo dates back to the 8th century, when a small community developed outside the main city walls. Over the centuries the quarter expanded and was protected by a defensive tower named the Torre della Catena. The inhabitants of this enclave were generally sailors, fishermen and peasants. The small port prospered exporting local produce, such as salted anchovies, olive oil. Even today, Gaeta’s most famous product is table olives preserved in brine. These became known as “Gaeta Olives” despite the fact that they were actually cultivated in the nearby town of Itri. Ropes made of a wild grass named stramma were made locally and also shipped abroad. During this affluent period the local shipyards were kept occupied constructing wooden sailing ships, many were for Gaeta’s large commercial fleet.
In 1872 the district assumed its own name, that of Anàtola. In 1897, by Royal Decree, the district was separated from that of Gaeta’s Sant’Erasmo area and became autonomous. It took on the new name of Elena in honor of then Princess Elena, the future queen of Italy. In 1927, after a division of thirty years, the municipalities of Gaeta and Elena were once again united under the name of Gaeta.
Through the centre of the Porto Salvo district runs a long narrow pedestrian alley named Via Indipendenza, which is also sometimes known as “piccolo alley”. It is approximately half a mile in length and paved in dark volcanic stone. It runs parallel with the seafront thoroughfare of Lungomare Giovanni Caboto. It is a fascinating area to explore as it is made up of lots of old dwellings with overlooking windows, balconies, doorways, arches and little adjoining alleyways, known as vicoli. Lining the street there are many colourful small shops selling fresh local produce and delicacies and other items such as souvenirs, handicrafts, leather goods, clothes, and jewelry. Interspersed with the shops there are also stalls selling an array of fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Along Via Independenza there is a step stairway known as the Salita degli Scalzi which leads up to the church of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo. A little further along the street you will come to the church of San Giacomo. The oldest church in the borgo was that of the Saints Cosma and Damiano, which was built at the end of the eighth century. Other churches in the Porto Salvo district included those of Sant’Andrea, San Sergio, Santa Maria di Torre d’Oria, Santi Apostoli and San Carlo.
The Mausoleum of Lucius Sempronius Atratinus
Many years ago this area was inhabited by the Romans, indeed the remains of several large villas have been unearthed, one belonging to Antonius Pius who was Roman emperor from 138 AD to 161 AD. Others are thought to have been owned by Lucius Marcius Philippus, patron of the Emperor Augustus. A third belonged to Lucius Sempronius Atratinus, who was born in 73 BC. He was an illustrious speaker in Rome and commander of the fleet of Mark Antony between 38 and 34 BC. He was elected as a Roman consul in 34 BC. The remains of his burial mausoleum can still be seen today, surrounded by modern housing blocks. Sadly it is now in a rather poor state of repair.
There is a roman Mausoleum in the Calegna district, which is known locally as the Sepolcreto Maritime. The remains of some other Roman tombs are to be found near Colle Cappuncini and Pizzone.